November 1, 2007 leonard slatkin

Well, October was certainly a busy month. In Washington, at the NSO, we began the subscription season. Beethoven 9 was up first. It is amazing how my thoughts of this work have changed over the years. Time was when the last movement was the only one worth listening to. But now, the drama and tension of the first, the sarcasm and explosiveness of the Scherzo, and the joyous cry of thanksgiving in the slow movement take me to places much closer to the composers intentions. And that Finale still is not bad.

We also premiered a new piece by Jefferson Friedman, a composer I have been interested in for the past four years. Very bright and concerned with the representation of outsider art. The visuals come to life in his music, which is a blend of exotic sounds and hymn tunes. Hard to categorize his works, but look for his name.

The next week brought Midori with the big Bartok Concerto. I had not performed it since a recording I did with Pinchas Zukerman almost 15 years ago. What a glorious work it is. And it still has the ability to transfix audiences, who never know what to expect from this composer.

During my final season, I am bringing back some works that I particularly want to share again. The Schubert 9th Symphony is one of them, which we performed this past month. Yes, it is long and tiring, but when it is over, you yearn for more. Beautiful playing all around by the NSO. We opened with a lovely piece by the American Irving Fine. This was his Toccata Concertante, a Stravinskian fling into the world of neo-baroque and other hybrid styles. Great fun.

The final week of October’s series brought Prayer in Time of War by William Schuman and the 6th Symphony of Vaughan Williams. These two works are written at different times during the Second World War, but both give very clear messages. Schuman is reflective but optimistic, VW dark and pessimistic. Both works should be played more often.

After intermission, Manny Ax played a sublime Brahms 2nd Concerto. We never have to discuss the music beforehand—just a bar or two before rehearsal begins. The poetry of David Hardy’s cello solo made the most intimate music-making in our 2300-seat hall.

Manny and I have been playing together for over 30 years now. Sometimes critics have taken me to task for hiring my friends too often. But when they are artists like Manny, Itzhak, Josh Bell, Zukerman, Fima Bronfman, Yo-Yo Ma and the likes, I think that not only are they great musicians, I am proud to call them my friends.

The final week of the month was spent in St. Louis, where I had not conducted for almost four years. It is still a fine orchestra with lots of struggles economically. Houses seem a bit light these days, but they have many administrative positions to fill. Once they get on track with the right people, all will be well. Just for fun, I conducted a concert with ten pianos. We raised money to purchase them for Washington University. Ride of the Valkyries never sounded better.

I have gone to Detroit for a day here and a day there, starting to put that house in order as well. Getting to know the players and listening carefully to what they have to say. Each visit confirms my decision to go there. So much to do, but I love this kind of challenge. And I am starting to get to know some of the great restaurants there as well.

There should be much news again next month, as I am in Europe for three-and-a-half weeks. See you then.

Leonard Slatkin